- Indigenous Futures and Medieval PastsAn Introduction
The intellectual project of decolonizing has to set out waysto proceed through a colonizing world. It needs a radicalcompassion that reaches out, that seeks collaboration, andthat is open to possibilities that can only be imagined asother things fall into place.—Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Ngati Awa and Ngati Porou)
Medieval studies is experiencing an Indigenous “turn.”1 Like other turns that have preceded this one—semiotic, feminist, postcolonial—there is a sense of urgency to it, due in part to the practical and ethical questions raised by any change to entrenched methodologies and ways of thinking. Unique to this turn, however, are the epistemic concerns central to Indigenous studies and global Indigenous communities whose knowledges and experiences cannot be fully articulated or realized within Euro-American ontological frameworks. When taking up an epistemically different and politically active discipline like Indigenous studies, medievalists must first attend to lived reality of Indigenous peoples: what has it meant and what does it mean to be Indigenous? What is the role of Indigeneity as an analytic category?2 What goals are Indigenous studies scholars supporting, and how can disciplines like medieval studies contribute to them? In addition to these questions about contemporary Indigenous peoples and Indigeneity as an analytic category, the Indigenous turn in medieval studies also requires reflexive examinations: How does the fraught history of medieval studies, with its ties to imperialism and role in colonialism, complicate a sincere coalition with Indigenous studies and Indigenous scholars? Is medieval studies’ current interest in Indigenous studies fleeting? If so, can we approach Indigenous studies in an effective and ethical way? If not, how do we reinvent our praxis and ethos to account for the vulnerability of our Indigenous partners? Medieval and Indigenous studies scholars cannot expect these questions to be answered in a vacuum. Arriving at any substantive answers requires not only a “looking in” by medieval studies but also a “looking back” by Indigenous studies. [End Page 1] Only by participating in this reflective process of questioning can Indigenous studies scholars hope to provide an answer to the question posed by this special issue’s call for papers: What does it mean for medieval studies to be held accountable by contemporary and ancestral communities of Indigenous peoples whose lives and deaths have created Indigenous studies as we understand it today?
Thinking through these and other questions related to the Indigenous turn in medieval studies opens up the possibility of deep relationality between the two disciplines, enabling Indigenous studies scholars to ask, What kind of future is gained when the medieval past is Indigenized, seen not as proper to a European lineage but as a tributary to many people’s histories across the globe? Exploring Indigenous futurity through medieval European pasts contributes to the far-ranging scholarship of Indigenous studies by reversing the ethnographic paradigms of Euro-American scholars studying Indigenous peoples and reasserting Indigenous sovereignty within the academy. In doing so, Indigenous studies scholars face our/their own questions: How do we/they practice kinship with a field so incredibly different from our/their own? What evidence do we/they use? How do we/they begin to interrogate the early medieval archive?3
Many of these questions are asked and answered contemporaneously without much (if any) Indigenous input, often to the detriment of substantive, long-term discussions that might foster lasting kinship and relationality between Indigenous and medieval studies scholars. This special issue is intended to slow down medievalist engagement with Indigenous studies, to ask us all to be more deliberate, to be thoughtful, and to consider first the ethics of kinship and reciprocity that we owe Indigenous peoples, places, and communities who have labored to craft Indigenous studies as an academic field. In other words, this issue asks medieval studies scholars to take the first steps in laying the foundation for long-term commitment to Indigenous studies scholars and their communities, to ask what it might look like to “extend an invitation,” rather than “engage with,” Indigenous studies scholars. This begins with the difficult work of reflection and self-examination that aims to consider the limitations of...